I stumbled across Steve Carson’s wonderfully detailed and expository blog on atmospheric radiation and energy transfer effects this morning while googling something about Grant Petty’s textbook, A First Course in Atmospheric Radiation, something I’ve challenged myself to make a serious start on this summer. I hadn’t noticed Dr Carson’s mentions at Skeptical Science, but, well, Skeptical Science is a huge site, itself quite nice, and I’ve only done “helicopter-style” reading of it.
But back to Dr Carson. I’ve just sampled his material, but the systematic, cool-headed, calm way he approaches his material is admirable, and astonishing. He has, for example, a multi-part treatment of the various interpretations assigned to carbon dioxide being a trace gas in the atmosphere. His very first page, limited in scope, is assailed by some claiming he has an agenda. As he remarks, in response to one:
I make no comment in the post about the temperature record. I also see nothing unusual in today’s conditions.
I make no claim that recent (last 100-150 years) temperature increases are caused by CO2.
The point of the post is to explain the basics of atmospheric physics.
I said in the conclusion: “..CO2 and water vapor are very significant in the earth’s climate, otherwise it would be a very cold place. What else can we conclude? Nothing really, this is just the starting point..”
Yet, in return, he gets (in part):
To: scienceofdoom; get a real name for starters. It does not matter if carbon dioxide emits a dis-proportinate amount of long-wave energy. As you have stated, 98% of the atmosphere, nitrogen and oxygen, are transparent to long wave energy. Meaning, this long wave energy is not captured by 98% of the atmosphere; where the temperature is set for humanity and all living things and the only place it matters for measuring and /or aggregating global temperatures.
Dr Carson continues in his patient approach.
The one thing that concerns me, however, is Dr Carson’s assessment
I don’t claim anything else for CO2, but for many, even allowing CO2 a significant role in the radiation budget of the planet is a controversial point.
Whether or not its current effect and future effect is wildly over-stated isn’t covered in the post. The climate is way too complex.
(Emphasis added by me.) I have no doubt the climate system is very complex. I have no doubt that it is fascinating to study, and I do, and I want to know more, hence, my delving into Dr Petty’s book and Dr Carson’s blog posts. But I am also interested in communicating climate science. One thing I find people uncomfortable with, even if it is unavoidable, is the “Trust me” argument. If, in fact, initiation of policy towards either mitigating or preparing for climate disruption, or both, is contingent upon either “Trust me” approaches or understanding the climate in depth, I see us continuing to get no where. Yes, as the late great Dr Stephen Schneider remarked, when you are told you have cancer, you don’t automatically question the finding out of hand, although you may get a second, equally “Trust me” opinion. But people seem to want to know more, or have been conditioned by media, Deniers, and our ultra-individualist culture to demand more before they make marked changes in their lives.
I’m learning all this stuff out of personal interest, and in the perhaps vain hope that I may find a way to convey some understanding of this complexity and its ramifications to some.